Going through the day without a path is a weird feeling. I never was one to be defined by my job. I always worked hard, up to 80 hours a week for long stretches, sometimes four part-time jobs at the same time. Long ago, in the resort area where I lived, I was actually sought after by employers, for two simple reasons: I was available all year round, and I’d show up for work every day and do my best. It was gratifying to know that I’d always have a job.
Then I moved to Cleveland and entered the corporate world. It wasn’t as much of a culture shock as it might have been, because I spent the first seven years in the hospitality industry, and it was the same kind of craziness I’d experienced at the resort. After that, I moved to an accounting firm, then went into publishing for the last 18-plus years of my career. Publishing is obviously home to many creative people, so it was a comfort zone for me. As the years went by, the creativity part fell more and more under the shadow of corporatization, an unfortunate trade-off. I would never say I loved any of the jobs I had, never felt a calling or felt particularly fulfilled. I liked most of those jobs, though, and was proud to make contributions to successful organizations, proud of my high customer service standards.
A decade and a half ago, I was talking with a co-worker about hitting the lottery. To my amazement, she said that even if she scored a big jackpot, she’d continue to work, because if she didn’t, what would she do and where would she go every day? To me, that mindset was unfathomable. Off the top of my head, I could think of a hundred things I’d rather do than go to work, if I had the means.
Now, I’m retired, not by choice, but because the company I worked for decided to cut my job to save money , and due to my age, I couldn’t find another position. I’d dreamed of retirement my entire career, but I always imagined it would be on my terms, and never without at least reasonable financial security. At that point, I thought, when I made my escape from the corporate world, I’d take on volunteer work as an anchor, and I’d read all the books I’d never gotten around to, take long walks, spend time with the animals. When my husband retired, then we’d travel. It never occurred to me that I’d feel adrift, unsure, and apprehensive, at a loss as to what to do. The big problem is that my exit from the workforce was unplanned and abrupt, and I have only a smidgen of the security I’d anticipated. I have no idea how many tens of thousands of people have been in the same boat over the last couple decades, but from my reading, I know the number is large. I feel that it’s too late to reinvent myself, and even if I did, what would I become? If I’d realized 40 years ago that I’d have been happy as a naturalist or horticulturalist, I’d have taken the courses and the training, and had a satisfying career. But I didn’t, and now the time has passed and the money isn’t there to retool.
In no way, shape, or form would I want to go back to my last position; I’m well out of it. Still, I miss being part of something larger. I suppose I could pick a cause and get involved, but I don’t like meetings and don’t want a rigid structure anymore. I feel rudderless, at loose ends, and invisible. I can’t touch bottom and get a foothold anywhere. Guilt hits me constantly, because I keep thinking I should be doing something, but I have no idea what. It never occurred to me that being retired would detach me from a purpose, because no job was ever my purpose – I always considered it simply a necessary evil to keep the bills paid. At the moment, I can’t find a path and I don’t know where I go from here. I’ve never been given to self-pity and am a profound optimist, but my current situation really has me flummoxed. It just goes to show that things never happen the way you think they will. Life always surprises you.